Thursday, May 30, 2013

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 31 May - 6 June 2013

It seems like this is an extra week in the summer movie season - after Memorial Day, but (mostly) before June. Sort of threw the studios' rhythm off a bit. Or is that just me?

  • For instance, The Purge and After Earth wound up switching places on the schedule as it got adjusted a few weeks ago. That puts the latter out this week, and it's kind of an odd duck - a big FX-driven thing where neither co-star Will Smith nor writer/director M. Night Shyamalan has been mentioned much by name in the advertising. Not sure what to take from that. It plays the Capitol, Apple, Fenway (including the RPX screen), and Boston Common.

    It seems like I've been seeing previews for Now You See Me forever, although it hasn't been the painful saturation of The Internship. It's got a nifty cast - Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Melanie Laurent, Mark Ruffalo - and Louis Leterrier from the Luc Besson action factory guiding the story of magicians who seem to be pulling off impossible heists from the other side of the world. It feels like it's bounced around the calendar, and hopefully landing here is a better sign than it landing in February or so. It plays Somerville, Apple, Boston Common, and fenway.
  • Kendall Square picks up two documentaries. The "big" one is We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks, in which Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room director Alex Gibney attempts to present a cohesive, even-handed view of the controversial website, its founder Julian Assange, and its most (in)famous source, Bradley Manning. A less momentous (but likely just as fascinating) subject is profiled in Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay, in which director Molly Bernstein turns a camera on one of the greatest close-up magicians working and learning about those who inspired him. It's got the "one-week warning".
  • The Coolidge opens Frances Ha, which opened at Kendall last week. In addition to playing on a bigger screen in 35mm, star and co-writer Greta Gerwig will do a remote Q&A after Friday's 9:45pm show. Friday (and Saturday) night also features the 1958 remake of The Blob on 35mm. Otherwise, it's a quiet week for special presentations, with the only other one being Gregorio Smith presenting his Jehovah's Witness documentary Truth Be Told in the screening room, with another guest or two on-hand for post-film discussion.
  • As I noted walking through Harvard Square last night, the eponymous university's Commencement and Reunion is going on this week, and as usual the Brattle Theatre contributes to the festivities with anniversary screenings. Friday has single features of 1963's Beach Party and 1988's Earth Girls Are Easy; Saturday a double feature of 1938's The Adventures of Robin Hood and 1963's From Russia With Love with a late show of 1988's They Live; and Sunday pairs 1938's Holiday with 1963's The Pink Panther and also has 1988's Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown at 9:15.

    On Monay, the DocYard brings director Ben Nabors in to screen and discuss his SXSW award-winning documentary William and the Windmill, featuring a young man who build an electricity-generating turbine out of scraps and spare parts. The theater is closed to the public on Tuesday, but re-opens Wednesday for the start of The Tarantino Chronicles, which pairs a QT film with one of its inspirations. On Wednesday the 5th, Reservoir Dogs shows with Stanley Kubrick's The Killing (the latter screening digitally), while Thursday has Kiss Me Deadly lead into Pulp Fiction.
  • Speaking of Harvard, the Film Archive completes their Raoul Walsh Encore with The Cock-Eyed World and Dark Command on Friday; a four-film marathon of Salty O'Rourke, The Enforcer, Jump for Glory & The Horn Blows at Midnight on Saturday (the last, appropriately, at about 12am) on Saturday; and The Big Trail and Gentleman Jim on Sunday. After that, they close up shop for the rest of June before the summer program starts in July.
  • The Regent Theatre finishes the "Boston Surfs!" Film & Music Festival on Friday with a combination of movies and live music. On Tuesday, they screen the next film in Gathr's Preview Series: The Attack, in which a Palestinian doctor living in Tel Aviv loses his wife to a terrorist action - and then learns she may be responsible for it. I've got four or five free tickets, for anybody who wants one. And Thursday the 6th, they have two screenings of "Ain't in It for My Health": A Film about Levon Helm; the documentary on the Rock & Roll Hall-of-Famer will also play Sunday the 9th.
  • The MFA's program continues what it started a few days earlier, screening documentaries Becoming Traviata and One Track Heart: The Story of Krishna Das once each on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Times vary.
  • The iMovieCafe screen at Apple Cinemas is (mostly) playing an English-subtitled Bollywood film this week. Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani features Deepika Padukone and Ranbir Kapoor in a musical that follows them from their meeting at 21 through a lifelong romance. Telugu-language film Iddarammailatho fills in the other timeslots.

My plans? Well, I think you've got to pair Now You See Me and Deceptive Practices somehow, then work in After Earth, We Steal Secrets, The Attack, and maybe Wiliam and the Windmill. Oh, and I haven't seen Stories We Tell or Mud yet. Should get on that. And the 35mm classics at the Brattle and HFA look good too...

Oh, and seriously - I've got extra tickets for The Attack. Leave a comment or an email or something if you want them.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

This Week In Tickets: 20 May 2013 - 26 May 2013

Ah, festival reviewing and post-festival catch-up done, so it's time to just sit back and take it easy...

This Week in Tickets

Stubless: Rabbit Horror 3D (24 May 2013, Jay's Living Room, 10pm-ish)

... or, alternately, I could spend a week more or less gorging on movies, stopping only to watch baseball. That's another option.

The two overlapped on Monday, as I saw 42 at the Fenway cinema, complete with hot dogs (tip: the hot-dog sliders are not actually a bad deal, costing $5 or so for the equivalent of roughly two full-sized franks, which cost $4.50 a pop). Not a great dinner, but I'd likely have much worse by the time the week was over. It was actually kind of relaxing to have a half-hour more than usual to get to the Fenway area compared to the usual time for a ballgame. I sort of had the opposite problem on Tuesday, getting to the Regent Theatre well early for What Maisie Knew but not really hungry enough to choose one of the local restaurants.

Wednesday was comics day, and I met up with a friend from the comic shop for Thursday night's ballgame. The Red Sox lost, pretty decisively, at the hands of former manager Terry Francona. It got so ugly that by the time Tony left, we knew to check the Bruins score when we heard happy sounds. By the end, the Bruins had lost, it was raining, and it seemed like sports in Boston sucked - a feeling which (spoilers!) would not last the weekend.

Friday I stayed in, watched the game on TV, and eventually decided to finally give the Blu-ray player and 3D converter I purchased a month earlier a field test with Rabbit Horror 3D (sure, it says "Tormented" on the box, but c'mon!). Decent movie, and while the tech I used to watch it in 3D wasn't great, it was capable and a neat thing to have. I spent long enough writing it up on Saturday that I sort of blew past my original plans for moviegoing, which involved Pain & Gain and one of the newer shows at the Aquarium, but Fast & Furious 6 followed by the Alloy Orchestra performing life with From Morn to Midnight, a strangely (and unjustly) obscure bit of silent German Expressionism, made for an interesting double feature.

Sunday was initially a bummer - I'd purchased a four-pack of baseball tickets during the winter figuring someone in my family could use them, but everyone turned out to be busy for what seemed like legitimate reasons (if I find out anybody was marathon-watching Arrested Development, there'll be hell to pay), so they missed a really great game that ended on a fantastic comeback. After, I did another double feature which seemed much more logical on the surface (Epic & The Painting), although they wound up not quite so similar as one might think for both being animated family movies about small people living in a hidden world.

Busy week. But when watching baseball with a friend from good seats is the only part that doesn't really turn out as well as one might expect, you're doing pretty well.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 20 May 2013 in Regal Fenway #6 (first-run, 4k DCP)

42 turned out more or less exactly as expected. That's not really a bad thing - it's a good story, told fairly well, and the audience is going to feel pretty good after watching it. Its biggest shortcoming, perhaps, is that baseball fans have been told this story rather a lot - MLB can be rather self-congratulatory about being ahead of the curve on civil rights every April 15th, and Ken Burns's Baseball miniseries was just as much about race in America as the game, with Jackie Robinson obviously a central part of that - so it would have been nice to see details and facets of this story that don't get told as much. Writer/director Brian Helgeland doesn't really do that.

Of course, it just may be the case that the legend is close to the truth, and side characters like Leo Durocher (Christopher Meloni) and his temporary replacement as Dodgers manager Clyde Sukeforth (Toby Huss) didn't add that much, and there would be no satisfying way of continuing beyond the end of Jackie's first season with the Dodgers and showing how things maybe changed when he was no longer being asked to not fight back. The cast does well with these characters that circumstances made larger-than-life, though - Chadwick Boseman, in particular, always has a look about him that says Robinson wasn't necessarily comfortable being a piece of history, that he sees exceptions being made for him and doesn't know if he merits it. I kind of liked that; it makes him the right guy at the right time rather than something predestined. Harrison Ford goes the other way as Branch Rickey, giving a broad performance that never lets the audience forget that it's a movie star playing someone just as famous, but Rickey needs to be big, and Ford really captures how Rickey (at least, in Helgeland's version) may not be completely altruistic in having Robinson break baseball's color line, but is less mercenary than he lets on.

But you know what I like most about 42? It's a baseball movie. Not "just" a civil rights movie where baseball happens to be the industry integrated, but one where the audience feels like they're being brought onto the field, noticing the details of how the bases look, what the radio play-by-play sounds like... How the game differed from today, and how in part that was because it was an all-white game that was undeniably improved by Robinson bringing the Negro Leagues' style of play with him. It feels like watching baseball, not a sermon, even while it's showing how integrating the game made it better for everyone.

Fast & Furious 6

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 May 2013 in AMC Boston Common #16 (first-run, DCP)

Of all the strange things to happen in the movies this century, the Fast & Furious series has to be right up there. The third, Tokyo Drift looks like the sort of "in-name-only" extension of a series that would be released direct-to-video back before VOD rearranged the whole paradigm, but somehow it kept the series alive long enough to bring the original cast back and somehow have writer Chris Morgan and director Justin Lin build it into a series that produces fun individual installments that tie together as well as anything with this sort of ongoing continuity.

Not that Morgan is writing particularly great scripts - this is a pretty dumb movie that doesn't make a lot of sense, but it knows how to use all of its characters. Well, except the evil versions of the crew whom DSS Agent Hobbs has brought them in to catch, but all the ones that matter. It's a group that is just fun enough to tie action scenes together, and while some of the plot bits don't make a whole lot of sense, they get the film from car chase to car chase, and the bit during the end credits which ties the series together is kind of a brilliant bit of retconning.

Plus, yeah, the car chases are pretty great. Not all of them - after a fun opener, the more conventional action is good but not fantastic (full disclosure: I arrived fairly late and thus wound up in the front row, which isn't the greatest vantage point for this sort of movie). The big ones featured in the previews, though, are pretty much everything I wanted them to be - the tank chase is just gloriously over the top, makes the characters improvise, and just as I'm starting to have "man, this is asking me to be okay with a lot of people being crushed to death" thoughts, the movie uses that, showing that Michelle Rodriguez's Letty belongs with the good guys. And then the plane chase... Good lord, that's awesome. It's got so many moving parts that a lesser filmmaker might produce a confusing mess, but Lin jumps between the different elements with great dexterity, and has both great action beats and emotional ones as well.

Oh, and Rodriguez and Gina Carano throw down twice, once being intercut to Joe Taslim beating the crap out of Tyrese Gibson and Sung Kang, and those fights are kind of awesome, too.

42What Maisie KnewThorough Butt-KickingFrom Morn to MidnightGreat ComebackFast & Furious 6EpicThe Painting

Hidden Animated Worlds: Epic and The Painting

It's funny how, when one plans what seems like an obvious double feature, the pieces don't quite seem to go together so well as they do on paper. Take Epic and The Painting, both of which I wanted to review earlier because it didn't look like anyone else on EFC would take them (clearly, we needed multiple Fast & Furious 6 and Hangover 3 reviews instead!) but where the schedule didn't really line up until Sunday evening - both animated, both aimed at a younger audience, and both about tiny people in worlds hidden within our own dealing with things at a different scale. Seems like an obvious pairing. In fact, maybe the sort of obvious pairing that is so on the nose that you don't do it, lest it seem repetitious or mark one film as obviously inferior.

Thankfully, it doesn't wind up being like that at all. Yes, the two have a lot of surface similarities and The Painting is a great movie while Epic is just pretty good, but they wind up being very different experiences. Epic plays things very safe while trying to appear ambitious, while The Painting sneaks a lot of ideas into its decptively simple frame.

One thing that surprised me when opening the IMDB page up for reference while writing up Epic is that its director, Chris Wedge, hasn't had that credit on a movie since 2005's Robots, which kind of puts a llittle bit of a lie to my attempts to pigeonhole him. He has produced a few sequels to his feature debut, Ice Age, and a few other Blue Sky pictures, but that strikes me as a long time to go between directing gigs, even if animation does have a long development cycle. Even with his more prominent position at Disney, I don't think John Lasseter is quite that subsumed in the business end of things.

Giving the film that particular name (a generic thing likely meant to keep it from seeming too obviously kid-oriented) probably saddles it with some too-big expectations, as well. The funny thing is, I think it would actually seem more epic without its main character. Without M.K., the world would seem big; having her around and constantly fretting about returning to her regular size just reinforces how small it is. She also winds up being one of those teenagers that sounds too adult when talking with her dad, and the filmmakers never really find a way to use that.

The Painting, on the other hand...

First, I'd just like to say how glad I am that there were subtitled screenings available. One of the potentially frustrating things about GKIDS is that, while they absolutely do fine work in bringing great international animation to the American audiences, they do tend to push their dubs pretty heavily. Given who their main audience is (right in the name), it's understandable, but there are a lot of us who want it as-is. One advantage to DCP projection is that it should be less of a hassle for theaters to have both versions on tap, and hopefully this split will continue with the rest of the releases.

So with that said, lets get right to the part where the atheist talks about the movie's handling of religious issues!

I don't think that this is a picture that can be completely construed as anti-religious; looking at it from the outside; there's no denying the existence of the characters' deity. The big difference between the Painter and the Christian God, though, is that the Painter does not seem to make any particular demands of his paintings - not even ones that are invented by them. Certainly, the Allduns use him as a way to justify their position of power, while the lower classes predict that he will return someday, but there aren't any scenes where anybody worries about displeasing their creator and being punished for it.

So skepticism isn't necessarily what Jean-François Laguionie and Anik Leray are trying to get across as much as practicality: Even if there is a God, his perspective is different than ours - he may move on to the next painting or tear things up for reasons we can't understand (and "God works in mysterious ways" does not necessarily mean "He has a plan for us"). Ultimately, the Painter is not necessarily relevant to one's everyday life, so you had best learn how to paint yourself.


Still, there is room for different perspectives. As the movie goes on, we see that Lola appears to have a different view - where the others worry about bringing themselves up to Alldun status, she seems to recognize that there is something wonderful about being unfinished or just who she is - she hears the self-portrait talk about being stuck feeling one way, and while the nude worries about her missing dress, Lola points out that she is beautiful as she is. And when the others are all painting themselves new colors willy-nilly, she sneaks away, meets the Painter, and doesn't flinch at him. Her response to the knowledge she gains is wonderful: More cuirosity; she wants to find the one who painted the Painter.


That's an awesomely grand idea - truly epic, you might say - and it's handled in a way that doesn't seem disrespectful at all. That's a rare feat, and kudos to The Painting for managing it.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 26 May 2013 in Regal Fenway #1 (first-run, RealD)

It's a bit surprising to see a movie called "Epic" come from Blue Sky Studios and its founder Chris Wedge; of all the studios making animated features today, they are the one whose style is most based on kid-friendly cartooning; how will they mix with a story that promises more grandeur and danger? And while this is still something of a light adventure, this group is so good at putting things on screen that it's always a feast for the eyes,

There are two scales to the world, it posits. At the human scale, Mary Katherine (voice of Amanda Seyfried) is coming to live with her estranged father after her mother's death. At a much smaller scale, the Leaf People are locked in a battle for the fate of the forest with the Boggins. Today, when the summer solstice coincides with the full moon, Queen Tara (voice of Beyoncé Knowles) can choose an heir, though her chief guardian Ronin (voice of Colin Farrell) warns of an attack. It comes, and since M.K. was in the the woods, she winds up shrunk down to Leaf Person size, and will have to help Ronin and young hot-shot Nod (voice of Josh Hutcherson) keep the pod safe from the Boggins' king Mandrake (voice of Christoph Waltz).

Say this for Blue Sky: They make absolutely beautiful movies, and Epic is no exception to this rule. While some of the human faces sometimes seem to lack some of the detail given to everything else, they're expressive enough, and they're dropped into an amazingly detailed world - it's a sheer joy to just look at the leaf-based clothing and armor the Leaf People and Boggins have, especially the ones that are based on specific flowers or insects. The environments are similarly elaborate, and animals like mice and hummingbirds look nifty from that scale.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

Le Tableau (The Painting)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 26 May 2013 in Landmark Kendall Square #4 (first-run, DCP)

The Painting (Le Tableau in the original French) is beautiful, and witty, and smart; you can tell that from the first frame of this movie about the lives of the figures inside a painting. And if it merely maintained that level of cleverness it would be something special. Instead, it kicks things up a notch, giving the audience even bigger ideas to chew on when it could just be tidying up.

Within one particular painting, there is a rather rigid class system - those who have been completely painted, the "Allduns", live in the castle; the ones who lack some finishing brushstrokes, "Halfies", are shut out and occupy the garden; while both look down on the "Sketchies". Alldun Ramo (voice of Adrien Larmande) and Halfie Claire (voice of Chloe Bertier) are in love but must meet clandestinely, and one of those meetings results in Ramo, Claire's young friend Lola (voice of Jessica Monceau), and Quill (voice of Thierry Jahn) - a Sketchie with good reason to be resentful - on a boat heading for the edge of the painting, then emerging into the studio with the aim of asking the Painter to finish them.

As the film starts, it looks like director Jean-François Laguionie and his co-writer Anik Leray are primarily going to be using the painting as a metaphor for race and class, and they get a lot of good material out of that: There's no mistaking the fascism in the words of Alldun leader Candlestick, and even the younger, more idealistic characters like Ramo and Lola can find themselves unconsciously treating Quill poorly. A pit stop in another painting of armies battling features a pointless war based entirely on whether the soldiers' uniforms are painted red or green. It's not always subtle, but it's well-done.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

Monday, May 27, 2013

From Morn to Midnight with the Alloy Orchestra

Pretty simple rule of thumb: If the Alloy Orchestra is in town, you go see them. Not just because they are, as Roger Ebert once said, the best in the world at accompanying silent film, but because it's often a way to find interesting films. It's often something that tracks the venue that they're playing - when they're booked in the big rooms at the Somerville or Coolidge Corner Theatres, that generally means fairly well-known movies (not always; you sometimes get a wild-and-weird show), but when a museum books them, well, then it's time for something a little less common.

And, as mentioned in the review, it's hard to get much more obscure than From Morn to Midnight (the program and titles had "morning" instead of "morn", but every reference I found says otherwise). Apparently, despite being based on a relatively well-known play, it never opened in Germany after an initial press screening. I'm not sure how that happens - booking was very different back then, obviously, and maybe it played in some markets but it's just hard to find evidence of it, but it wound up down to one nitrate print at one point. Yikes.

That it was mostly championed in Japan made me wonder if it had managed to hook up with a really good benshi. As much as I think the movie itself is pretty good, their performance really underlined how much a quality soundtrack can add to it. This is a movie with a lot of abstractions, and their score managed the neat trick of being something familiar to hold on to and enhancing the oddness. Roger Miller's work on the keyboards, emphasizing how badly the cashier's daughter likely plays her piano, was the most obvious reminder of it. Similarly, I wonder if a benshi's acting, setting up context, and giving asides might have given the picture a boost in Japan that it didn't have elsewhere.

Anyway, if was a fun experience, so take a bow, guys:

Terry Donahue and Ken Winokur did a quick Q&A after the show. There wasn't a whole lot to say - the audience didn't have a lot of questions about the music specifically and they didn't have much more to say about the movie's odd provenance than what was explained in the opening titles.

Meanwhile, Roger Miller sold stuff. I kind of wish I'd stopped to look closer, because I see on their website that they've got an MP3 CD of their score to the complete Metropolis that can be synced with the Blu-ray. That's something I need.

Cropped out/unreadable: One of the greatest signs in a public performance area you'll ever see; someday I'm going to get a really good shot of it and make it my Twitter avatar or something. Also, it was kind of a bummer to see that the curtains were closed throughout, even before and after the show. The ICA's theater is one of the coolest places to see a movie in part because it can actually be opened up to let in natural light on three sides, while the screen has a lot of space behind it. It's a weird, cool, "suspended in space effect when they do some of that. Still, not as impressive when it's as damp and rainy a day as Saturday was.

Von morgens bis Mitternacht (From Morn to Midnight)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 May 2013 at the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston (Alloy Orchestra, video)

To say that From Morn to Midnight (Von morgens bis Mitternacht, in the original German) was not appreciated in its time is to understate the case rather severely: After a 1922 press screening, it never actually opened in Germany, though it was championed by critics in Japan, where a sole nitrate print survived long enough to be copied into a more stable format. It would likely have become obscure eventually, being a silent Expressionist film that it isn't quite in the top rank, but its unusual style and oddly compelling story makes it an interesting discovery.

A woman (Erna Morena) goes to the bank in a small German town looking for 10,000 marks in credit, the sum that her son (Hans Heinrich von Twardowski) needs to purchase a painting from a second-hand shop. The bank's director (Eberhard Wrede) refuses; he has received no communication about her bona fides. The cashier (Ernst Deutsch), struck by her beauty, opts to take the money and go to her himself, with the idea of leaving his dreary home life behind - though no matter where he goes, there is always a girl (Roma Bahn) in one form or another haunting him.

The film is divided into five acts, as was often the case for feature-length silent dramas, especially those based on stage plays. which is noteworthy on the one hand because it corresponds with Roma Bahn appearing in five different roles and on the other because Georg Kaiser's original work is described as "a play in seven scenes". I wonder if the story of the Dame, her son, and the scandalous painting is finished on the stage, and whether the poor old shopkeeper with the massive beard ever got paid for his troubles. Here, they seem to vanish once they've provided a reason for the cashier to steal and go on the run, setting up a somewhat familiar arc of dissatisfaction, greed, discovering riches aren't all they're cracked up to be, and eventually pining for one's "Sweet Home" and repentance.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Tormented (aka Rabbit Horror 3D) and the 3D Video Wizard

I'm eighty-five, ninety percent kidding when I say that this movie cost me a hundred dollars: Twenty for the Blu-ray itself, forty for a new 3D Blu-ray player, and forty for a device to play a 3D Blu-ray on a 2D television. And while this is something I wanted to see in 3D ever since I heard about it - after all, it's cinematographer Christopher Doyle shooting a Takashi Shimizu movie named RABBIT HORROR in three dimensions - I was looking to do some upgrading anyway.

Not a lot. I am, after all, a thrifty New Englander who likes to use things until they wear out, and as much as I hated my Blu-ray player - a Samsung BD-P1000 which is painfully slow to boot and can't even do certain standard features - it was still basically functional. At least, I figured it was until I tried to watch the box set of Treme I bought at the Borders yard sale a year or so ago, and it showed a cool menu screen with awesome music, but wouldn't actually let me select anything. So, excuse to upgrade that, but not the TV.

But, I'd been accumulating 3D Blu-rays. Not deliberately; it's just that certain movies with niche appeal weren't bothering to put out separate 3D versions. So I wound up with dual-format versions of Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Dial M for Murder, Dredd, Flying Swords of Dragon Gate, and Tormented, with Upside Down on the way. And while it would be cool to just have them around for when I upgraded someday, I spotted a converter box in Radio Shack while looking for a new power supply for my laptop.

So, I waited for a good deal on Woot and pounced.

My new toys, and the discs that spurred their purchase (well, I picked up the Resident Evil movies when Best Buy had them on sale for less than the 2D ones usually cost)

So, how's the new equipment? Well, so far the Blu-ray player seems to be a reasonably capable Blu-ray player. It boots reasonably fast, plays movies, and has a number of other apps that I haven't tried out much yet - YouTube, Netflix, Vudu. Doesn't seem to be much way to add new services, and when I put Dredd in, it said that I would need to connect a flash drive with at least 1GB of capacity to use the BD-Live functions. Lame, as was not coming with an HDMI cable or even batteries for its (small, flimsy-feeling) remote control.

As for the "3D Video Wizard"...

Well, to be fair, it does what it says on the box - connect the 3D Blu-ray player to one port, the TV to another, and it takes the input from the first, does a little color-shifting math, and outputs it to the TV in an anaglyph format so that you can watch it with amber-and-blue glasses. And most of the time, it's pretty fair. I looked at the TV, saw depth, and occasionally flinched as things threatened to break the plane. It's not nearly as good as seeing something in 3D at the theater or likely for a TV with active-shutter glasses, but sometimes a movie doesn't play in 3D or you don't upgrade your television because that's not a device where people feel compelled to get the latest model; it's more furniture than a laptop.

(Note: Although I saw this box for about $150 at Radio Shack, it can be found for $35-45 at Amazon regularly, though from other sellers more than Amazon itself, despite the $130 SRP.)

So far, Tormented is the only movie I've watched start-to-finish with the device, and in general what I've found is that it's pretty good so long as the focus is on something in the middle distance, and the things in front of them or behind are mainly meant to give perspective, rather than be things that the audience might focus on. The logic to this, I suspect, is that the further away from the center in either direction, the further off the different colored images are going to be. Bright whites are problematic, as well; the colored portion bleeds onto them. This made a certain scene in Tormented kind of painful to watch, as the camera zoomed down the middle of a spiral staircase with a white center; what would have been a cool shot in the theaters made me look away. It's also hell on subtitles; being white and generally in a low-res font made them shimmer terribly.

Most of the other discs worked fairly well: Cave of Forgotten Dreams showed me the texture of the cave walls quite well, and the action in both Dredd and Flying Swords of Dragon Gate was pretty clear. There was occasional ghosting and halos, but I suspect that when I'm just watching a movie, as opposed to trying to suss out how the hardware is working, it will be easier for me to ignore. I also suspect that disc space is at a real premium with these things, and something like Flying Swords, which gave the 3D version its own disc rather than trying to fit it on the same disc as the 2D version, is generally going to look much better, with less chance for compression to create differences in the two video streams.

Dial M for Murder, on the other hand, was borderline unwatchable. Part of it, I suspect, is being sourced from film that's been around a while, so that the left-eye and right-eye images degraded differently. I also strongly suspect that the way Hitchcock and cinematographer Robert Burks shot it has something to do with it, too - they seldom seemed to really lock the camera on a plane that has someone or something that demands the audience's attention in it, but rather on the front of the room, so that everything seemed to be behind the screen. That's a nice effect when using polarized or shuttered lenses, but with anaglyph, it means that everything has a ghost, and the one really great 3D shot, of Grace Kelly reaching toward the audience to grab a pair of scissors, becomes a distorted, ghost-y mess. I've seen it in 35mm 3D, and it was fantastic, but this combination of equipment does not work at all; I'll be watching the 2D version from here on out.

Speaking of the equipment, I found myself wondering if a new pair of 3D glasses might be called for. The two pairs included were nice and sturdy compared to the old cardboard variety (or even the flimsier plastic ones at the theater), but the blue lens on the right seemed much darker than the amber on the left: Alternating which eye was open showed a much clearer picture in my left eye, and when watching the film itself, I actually felt my right eye getting more fatigued after an hour or so.

I wouldn't recommend one of these boxes to everyone, even if I didn't seem to be one of the few folks I know that really likes 3D. For $30-40, though, it's a fun thing to add into my home theater set-up since a new TV is years in the future (like, when I can replace my big screen with a 3D/4K monitor of equal size for relatively little), especially if you're like me and winding up with 3D Blu-rays on your shelf anyway. As to how often I'll buy new movies in the format now that I've got something to play them on, I'm not sure. I won't be getting Iron Man 3 that way, for example, or Hansel & Gretel, but I am thinking of switching up my pre-order for Oz: The Great and Powerful to get that version. For something that's an extra $5, and how relatively imperfect an experience 3D currently is, I think actually being designed with 3D the intended experience is going to be a necessity.

Tormented (aka Rabbit Horror 3D)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 24 May 2013 in Jay's Living Room (Blu-ray 3D converted to anaglyph)

"Tormented" is not a bad title for this particular Takashi Shimizu movie - it's generic, sure, but it does reflect some of what's going on. I must admit to favoring its original title, "Rabbit Horror 3D". I like that because as enjoyably creepy as the movie is, it gets there in large part by being genuinely weird, and you just don't get that from a one-adjective name.

A little while ago, ten-year-old Daigo Imazato (Takeru Shibuya) put a suffering rabbit down in his school's playground, albeit messily, and as a result he's being ostracized by the rest of the students. He therefore spends most of the day with his mute half-sister Kiriko (Hikari Mitsushima), the school librarian, especially since their father Kohei (Teruyuki Kagawa) is inattentive, fully engrossed in his latest job as a pop-up book illustrator. One day, Daigo and Kiriko go to see a movie, and one of the 3D effects has a rabbit backpack pop out of the screen - and that Daigo is able to grab it and take it home is only the start of things getting weird.

The movie they see is Shimizu's own Shock Corridor, amusingly and helpfully one of the previews that plays before the movie on the American home video release. In some ways, it's kind of a weird choice, as it only emphasizes the fact that he is repeating some elements from his last movie in this one (both involve scary hospitals, too). And while it's easy to make a crack about how the guy who made six Ju-on/The Grudge movies in as many years obviously doesn't mind repeating himself, it's worth remembering that at least one of those movies got somewhat self-referential. He and co-writers Diasuke Hosaka and Sotaro Hayashi are up to something a little more clever than just a silly hook and easter egg here; the crossing between genuine and imaginary realities is an important part of the story, as are the early and repeated references to Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 24 May - 30 May 2013

Busier week, as studios start counterprogramming rather than more or less ceding the week to the biggest opening.

  • It's actually sort of an open question which sequel is the weekend's biggest opening - is it The Hangover Part III, in which Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galifianakis get into more trouble and inevitably run into Ken Jeong? Oh, hey, Heather Graham's back, along with John Goodman and some other new characters. Or is it Fast & Furious 6, which follows up the set-up from the middle of #5's credits, which says that a character killed in #4 is still alive (note: this is completely different from the character killed in #3 who is still alive because Tokyo Drift apparently takes place after... well, next year's planned #7, at least). Luke Evans plays the villain, and Gina Carano is added to a cast that has accumulated Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Sung Kang, Dwayne Johnson, and Chris Bridges over the course of the series. Both play at the Arlington Capitol, Apple Cinemas, Fenway (including RPX for Fast, and Boston Common).

    The same theaters also have Epic, the newest 3D animated film from Blue Sky and its top director Chris Wedge, a large-scale adventure that comes about from a teenage girl being shrunk to the size of an insect and discovering there's a whole different world down there.
  • Another animated movie opens at Kendall Square with the one-week booking: The Painting is a French film that posits the world inside a painting being alive, only with there being a rigid class system based on how "finished" each person is. And, rejoice, while the afternoon and evening shows are dubbed, the 9:35pm show each night is in the original French with English subtitles!

    There's a lot more opening there, too. Frances Ha is the new film from Noah Baumbach that played IFFBoston; it's in black and white and features Greta Gerwig as the title character, who is suddenly cast out on her own after having been extremely close with her former roommate. What Maisie Knew played a preview series just a few days ago (I saw and quite liked it there); it features Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan as the divorcing parents of the child from whose perspective the audience is told the story.

    There's also a pair from interesting directors: At Any Price comes from Ramin Bahrani, who is best known for micro-budget features featuring amateur actors, but who here has Dennis Quaid and Zac Efron as father and son with different ideas on where to take the family farming business. Deepa Metha adapts a Salman Rushdie novel for Midnight's Children, where two children switched at birth on the day of India's declaration of independence follow parallel/intersecting paths.
  • the Brattle Theatre tests out their new DCP system this week, running Leviathan straight through from Friday to Thursday. It's a documentary from Verena Paravel & Lucien Castaing-Taylor that follows the voyage of a New England commercial fishing boat, apparently in ways nobody has done before.
  • After a few weeks of somewhat confusing schedules, the Coolidge Corner Theatre keeps things relatively simple, with Mud and Stories We Tell staying on the big screens and two other films opening in the smaller rooms: No is in the Goldscreen after stops in Cambridge, Somerville, and Arlington, while Venus and Serena follows the tennis-playing Williams sisters during 2011, when in addition to their sporting challenges, each battled a dangerous illness.

    The midnight show this weekend is the "Cult Cut" Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains, a rare 35mm print of a movie featuring Diane Lane and Laura Dern as punk rock girls in the title band, opening for a band that contains members of the Clash and the Sex Pistols. Another cult classic screens Monday as part of "Big Screen Classics", Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused
  • The New England Aquarium hasn't booked Star Trek on its genuine IMAX screen (yet), but they are opening a new marine-life documentary: "Penguins 3D" will be playing every other hour (with other movies as double-feature fodder in between). It's... well, it's penguins in IMAX 3D. It looks to be a cut-down version of a longer feature, but I suspect it gets its point across.
  • Because horror fans hate real-life horror, Adam Green will be hosting a Hatchet marathon on Thursday the 30th, which not only features uncensored prints of Hatchet and Hatchet II, but is the first chance to see the new Hatchet III. It's at Theater One in the Revere Hotel (formerly the Stuart Street Playhouse), runs 7pm to 1am, and requires a minimum $25 donation to the One Fund
  • It's the last weekend of Samurai Cinema at the MFA (although the samurai armors will be on exhibition through the beginning of August). It's good stuff, though, with Throne of Blood and Kill! on Friday and Sunday, and Seven Samurai Saturday afternoon. After that, they bring in a pair of documentaries on musicians, although they are very different: Becoming Traviata focuses on the preparations for an upcoming opera, while One Track Heart: The Story of Krishna Das features a rock & roll singer who gave it up to seek enlightenment in the Himalayas. Both play Wednesday the 29th and Thursday the 30th (and through the first week of June); director Jeremy Frindel and Lama Surya Das will be on hand after the Wednesday 5:30pm screening of One Track Heart for a discussion.
  • I believe the Harvard Film Archive had to cancel some of their Raoul Walsh screenings due to weather a few months ago, so they have a sort of encore this weekend, with Band of Angels Friday evening, Northern Pursuit Sunday afternoon, and What Price Glory? Monday night, with the series continuing next weekend. One last Arturo Ripstein film is squeezed into Friday night (Such Is Life rather than the previously scheduled Woman of the Port). They will also have Portugese documentarian Susana de Sousa Dias visiting with two of her films which twist archival footage into a new context: 48 Saturday evening, and Still Life Sunday evening.
  • The Regent Theatre is mostly film this week, with 100 Bloody Acres as the Gathr sneak preview on Tuesday (a horror comedy where the secret ingredient in organic compost is exactly what you think it is). Then from Wednesday to next Friday, they have a three day "Boston Surfs!" Film & Music Festival, which includes shorts, features, and live performances.
  • The ICA has The Alloy Orchestra in town on Saturday the 25th, accompanying two screenings of the rarely-seen (and long considered lost) German Expressionist film From Morning to Midnight.

My plans? Fast & Furious 6 (how did I wind up looking forward to that without seeing any between 1 & 5?), Epic, The Painting en français, Alloy, 100 Bloody Acres, and whatever else I can fit in.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

What Maisie Knew

Although an email from the folks running it claims that this screening at the Regent Theatre in Arlington was the fifth screening in its series, I believe it was the first in the Boston area. The word doesn't seem to have spread on it yet, as there were only about seven of us there.

Well, it was only a chance to see it three days early, but I will say that the Gathr Preview Series does seem to be a pretty good deal - they run four movies a month at $19/month (or $49 for three months), and while the five movies currently listed as coming through the end of June look to be a mixed bag, quality-wise, $4.08 to $4.75 for early screenings early in the week is a pretty decent deal, though they're $10 for non-members.

That's the sales pitch; the other side is that you're talking about Gathr screenings at the Regent. I'm pretty sure that the Regent is a pretty nice place to go for a live show; it's a comfy, 400-500 seat venue in a nice neighborhood with various restaurants, but the projection for this movie looked to be from a Blu-ray, and even though the screen is at the back of a stage, there was still masking on all four sides, not completely giving you the full big-screen experience. After twenty or thirty minutes, I got used to it, but presentation-wise, it's not exactly on a par with how folks who see it in DCP at Landmark will experience it.

On the other side, it's Gathr, and as much as the idea of services like Gathr and Tugg seem full of potential, they don't do a whole lot to promote screenings - this one wasn't even listed on the Regent's website (although next week's entry is). I suspect that they're hoping this series will increase by word of mouth, which will then build a sort of community which will book other screenings, but it looks like a pretty hard thing to bootstrap, truth be told.

Ah, well. I'll be back in Arlington for 100 Bloody Acres on Tuesday; we'll see how many other folks show up and what kind of trend we're looking at.

What Maisie Knew

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 21 May 2013 in the Regent Theatre (Gathr Preview Series, digital)

This modern-day adaptation of Henry James's What Maisie Knew appears to have been somewhat freely adapted from the novel, although not necessarily in the ways one might expect. Divorces and custody battles may have become more common since the book's publication in 1897, but the underlying issues remain all too similar. Capturing perspective in a film means doing things a bit differently, but it's something that this adaptation does very well.

Maisie (Onata Aprile) is six or seven years old, lives in New York City, and has a pretty sweet disposition despite the way her parents fight all the time. It's not long before Susanna (Julianne Moore), a rock star on the downward slope of her career, and Beale (Steve Coogan), an English art dealer whose work frequently takes him out of town, finally split for good. The court awards them joint custody, with each scheduled to have Maisie for ten days at a time. Maisie is somewhat surprised to see her nanny Margo (Joanna Vanderham) when she first arrives at her father's new apartment, which prompts Susanna to respond with her own marriage of convenience, in her case to young bartender Lincoln (Alesander Skarsgård), lest the court find Beale is providing a more stable environment.

Divorce is a rough road for most kids, but it's interesting to see how directors Scott McGehee & David Siegel and screenwriters Nancy Doyne & Caroll Cartwright emphasize certain parts of it. They show Maisie waiting to be picked up a lot, and when she is collected or dropped off, it's almost always by someone in a taxi. Part of this, naturally, is about this specific group of characters living in a city where having your own car is crazy and showing that their daughter is not nearly the first concern that she should be, but it also seems very much to be about showing what an in-between, rootless status Maisie is being stuck into. This divorce is terrible, certainly, but it's something that speaks to almost all splits where children are involved.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

This Week Month In Tickets: 22 April 2013 - 19 May 2013

And here I honestly thought that IFFBoston was going to be a "delays stuff three weeks" festival at most, though I guess I didn't really take into account just how many other movies I would get to that needed reviewing. But we're there now, and it feels good to be caught up..

22 April - 28 April
29 April - 5 May
6 May - 12 May
13 May - 19 May

This Week in Tickets

I think I mention it on the Independent Film Festival Boston Opening Night write-up, but due to me being kind of linear, I didn't really start thinking about getting my ducks in a row for that festival until I was finished writing up everything for the Boston Underground Film Festival, which took long enough that the link for press accreditation on IFFBoston's site was gone by the time I tried to use it, so I wound up buying a pass like the civilian I mostly am. I probably could have saved some money and just bought tickets to the 17 movies I wound up seeing, but I like getting to make decisions on the fly too much. Being the first to sit isn't bad, either.

The festival itself was pretty good; only a few movies I loved but plenty I liked. I saw fourteen movies these first five days:

24 April: The Spectacular Now
25 April: Tokyo Waka, Wasteland
26 April: Soft in the Head, A Hijacking
27 April: Secundaria, Night Labor, Computer Chess, Oxyana, V/H/S/2
28 April: The Defector, Remote Area Medical, The Act of Killing, Berberian Sound Studio

I meant to do a little bit more cramming before the event started, but it didn't happen outside of Trance. That's fine; a day to rest up doesn't hurt either.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 22 April 2013 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (first-run, 35mm)

Wow, it feels like a long time since I've seen Trance, much longer than the actual four weeks. That's got to make it count as a bit of a disappointment, as director Danny Boyle does everything he can to sear its crazy story into the audience's brain with his trademark style of quick-cut, colorful scenes. It just isn't quite good enough.

Give him credit for what he does; this is a movie that spends a lot of time on people sitting around asking each other questions, and even with plenty of flashbacks, that can be kind of a dull process. So while writers Joe Ahearne and John Hodge weave in a fair amount of present-day intrigue, Boyle and his crew do what they can to keep the buried memories of James McAvoy's Simon engrossing. It helps that they get one of McAvoy's more interesting performances, in that even before we start digging into his past, Simon doesn't just seem like the guy more interesting people are contrasted with. Vincent Cassel has long experience playing this sort of tough guy and knows what he's doing, and while she seldom really grabs the screen, I don't know if I'm capable of not liking Rosario Dawson in a movie.

The big issue, I think, is that this is a thriller whose plot is stretched to the breaking point. The high concept of a guy who is part of a heist injuring his head and thus needing to have the location of the stolen painting retrieved via hypnosis is a good one, and I kind of like the question implicit in the resolution of just who among the main characters was abusing and exploiting the others most egregiously. Getting there required twist upon twist, though, some of which did a real number on suspension of disbelief. It took a simple story and made it into a Rube Goldberg device, and that's a perilous thing to do.

This Week in Tickets

First up: The last two days of IFFBoston, which ran a day shorter than it has in recent years. Kind of a bummer, that, but it didn't seem to be for lack of decent movies to show.

29 April: Some Girl(s) & Willow Creek
30 April: In a World...

I got a bit lucky in terms of my movie choice; I could very well have seen Twenty Feet from Stardom during the festival, though it would have meant a bit of back-and-forthing on the Red Line and minimizing my flexibility in other places. Plus, while I didn't outright state a "no performer docs" this year, as the festival wasn't nearly as packed with them as it had been in previous years, that was still kicking around in the back of my mind. Still, I wasn't disappointed to see Talk Cinema pick it up and I actually thought Twenty Feet from Stardom and In a World... made a fine double feature.

In between, well, I'm guessing I watched some baseball, wrote some, and otherwise just wound down before paying the fees necessary (new release + RPX + 3D) to see Iron Man Three on one of the spiffier screens in Boston proper.

Iron Man Three

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 4 May 2013 in Regal Fenway #13 (first-run, 3D RPX DCP)

I kind of love this one, even if it does reveal a few flaws in retrospect. In part, it's because I'm a person who really liked Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and the idea that Marvel decided not just that using their big franchise to re-team Robert Downey Jr. with Shane Black was a good idea, but that they should let him make a Shane Black movie without messing with his voice too much was something that made me smile throughout. But even more, it's that this is a genuinely fun movie. It's got big, crazy action but also a really sharp sense of humor; it gets family-friendly tropes in without feeling like it's neglecting its grown-up audience; and the cast really seems to work well together.

One of the greatest things that I think Black does (along with co-writer Drew Pearce) - and there are many, from the tossed-off explanation of why the Avengers aren't getting involved (the government "doesn't consider this a superhero situation" and by the time Tony realizes it is, it's too late) to how the women have genuinely important roles to clever henchman dialogue - is that he uses the big action sequences not just as spectacle, but as things which really define character:


The first time you really notice it is when the Mandarin destroys Tony's mansion, and he tells the Mark 42 to assemble - around Pepper. Would the Tony of even Iron Man 2 have done that? No, he was too much of an egomaniac. But after The Avengers, he not only cares enough about Pepper that getting her to safety is his first priority, he trusts her to do it for herself. Also: This scene shows the proper way to use a piano to take out henchmen - take that, Superman Returns! Then there's the great barrell-of-monkeys scene, which is just an amazing aerial stunt on its own, but which also defines Tony's character perfectly: Faced with thirteen people falling to certain doom and told he can only carry four, he's going to use his brains and technological know-how to figure out a way to save everyone in a non-negotiable time frame. Then, in the big, climactic finale, he tells Pepper he'll catch her, fails, and is then surprised (but not disbelieving) when she pops up and takes the bad guy out herself. It's a great moment showing that they are partners who trust each other that not a lot of couples in action movies really get.

And while we're here in spoiler-land, I've got to say that I kind of like the way the movie handles the Mandarin - or at least, I agree that they couldn't really go any other way. In 2013, you're not going to have a traditional yellow-peril villain, not with China being the fastest-growing economy and movie market in the world, especially not with their DMG Entertainment funding a large chunk of it. So, sure, use the villain most closely associated with the comic book character and potentially tie off the Ten Rings storyline since there's a very real possibility that there will be no Iron Man 4, but do it in a way that makes the ugly xenophobia and nationalism inherent in the character a dangerous distraction. I don't know if it necessarily had to be Ben Kingsley in the role - couldn't they have found some Eurasian actor who could do the requisite funny accent? - unless the idea was that he could be spun as Middle Eastern when the movie plays in China.

Now, bringing up AIM and not having there be a funky yellow beekeepers' outfit in sight, that's a disappointment.


So, all in all, a pretty darn entertaining movie which stands a good chance of being my favorite of the summer - though, happily, it's still early.

This Week in Tickets

And we are back on the horse post-festival! It's more or less a given that if you show a silent movie, I will make every attempt to be there, and the Coolidge's "Sounds of Silents" program is one of my favorites, especially when they bring in Berklee's Film Scoring class. Of course, getting from Burlington to Brookline by 7pm is a challenge, so I always get seats with this sort of view:

... but it's generally still cool. The students do a nice job, and Our Hospitality certainly doesn't suffer for it. I kind of wish I'd gone to the screening of The Thief of Baghdad at Somerville on the 12th instead of the Red Sox game I did make; not only did I wind up eating a few tickets because getting people rounded up is difficult (and there really isn't a window at Fenway where they'll exchange five seats up in the bleachers for one seat at field level), but it was a pretty crappy loss, too. Coolest thing was that I was one seat diagonally away from the red seat, so... Yeah, not really cool.

To be fair, it was Mother's Day, which leads me to the question... Whose genius idea was it to release Go Goa Gone, Aftershock, and No One Lives on that weekend? I mean, really, who's bringing their moms to that? I mean, sure, Peeples, I can see, but the other three?

Our Hospitality

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 6 May 2013 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (Sounds of Silents, digital w/ live music)

It's been a couple of years since I last saw Our Hospitality (with Jeff Rapsis at Somerville), and silent comedies especially can kind of warp in one's mind over time: The really great bits of physical comedy come to stand out, and the dangerous stunts stick as well, while some of the bits that fill time in between kind of fade away or get remembered as funnier than they were. Our Hospitality is still a very funny movie, and indeed among the best of Keaton's pictures to rely on characterization as much as physicality, but some of the bits didn't hit me quite as well this time.

Of course, it could partially be the different score, too. Seeing a silent movie is unique in that something that is such an important part of the experience - and one that's heightened for silents, because it doesn't have to stay out of the way of dialog or sound effects - changes radically between viewings. Our Hospitality is a tricky one, because it's got the dead-serious opening that has to quickly become rather airy comedy before getting kind of dark but just as absurd. The Berklee kids did a pretty good job of it, though, just as Buster did.

My 2011 review on EFC

This Week in Tickets

Stubless: Black Rock at Apple Cinemas #5 (7:45pm, Friday 17 May 2013)

Another lost ticket after the one from a week before, and the surprising thing is that I wasn't even wearing the pants whose pockets seem purpose-designed to spill their contents when sitting in any seat that reclines just a little bit. The next time I go to the store to buy some pants, I'm going to see if the store's employees have recommendations on that subject, or at least have a chair in the changing room where you can test this.

Speaking of seats, the Somerville Theatre tore the seating out of their smaller theaters and replaced them after IFFBoston, something I was happy to check out with The Great Gatsby. Verdict: Nice just for their newness as opposed to being worn out, and probably just enough of an upgrade in width and leg room to make a difference without really hurting capacity. The arrangement is slightly different, as well; where before screen #5 had a big center section and two wings about three seats wide on the other sides of the aisles, they've now all been pressed together,with the aisles along the walls.

Thursday was the Brattle's quickly mounted tribute to Ray Harryhausen with Jason and the Argonauts and the original Clash of the Titans. It yielded a fair amount of polite applause every time Harryhausen's name appeared on-screen, and they got pretty decent prints, too. I won't lie, though - I kind of expected the opening for the Kevin Sorbo Hercules series in front of each of them ("In a time of myth and legend, the ancient gods were petty and cruel, and plagued mankind with suffering. Only one man dared challenge their power...").

Saturday didn't quite work out as planned - I bought a ticket for Star Trek Into Darkness at Jordan's Furniture in Reading online, figuring it would be sold out by the time I got there, but got on the T later than I should have, so as soon as the Orange Line was traveling above ground, I was tracking the bus I'd need to catch on my phone, eventually getting off at Wellington and taking the train back into town when I saw I'd lost the race, settling for seeing it on the lesser Imax-branded screen at Boston Common. Then at night, I cut it pretty close to see Kiss of the Damned, only to have it not show up on the MoviePass app. So, a fair amount of money spent on movies that I shouldn't have had to spend, but the results were OK.

Sunday I slept until noon and didn't even leave the house because I got caught up watching baseball.

The Great Gatsby

* * * (out of four)
Seen 13 May 2013 in Somerville Theatre #5 (first-run, Real-D 3D)

When the trailers for Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of The Great Gatsby started appearing, I was rather intrigued, if only because I remember not enjoying it very much when I read it in high school - and seeing the adaptation starring Robert Redford in Mia Farrow didn't help. Thus, seeing the previews with fast cars, plenty of gaudy production design, well-used 3D, and Leonardo DiCaprio looking almost as energetic and pleased with himself as he did in the concurrent previews for Django Unchained assured me that Luhrmann was doing his damnedest to make this material not boring.

By and large, he succeeds. Gatsby is a blast to watch, making fine use of Luhrmann's tendency toward excess even when he is also making a point about how hollow it is. It can be a tough balancing act; for instance, the the ever-watching eyes from the optometrist's advertisement can be blotted out by the shot showing Manhattan surrounded by a sort of wasteland (which I love). He is just the right guy to understand the vigorous romanticism in Jay Gatsby, who thinks in terms of grand gestures and has managed to build himself up so much that he can't help but trust in his ability to keep making his fantasies real.

As for the problems... Well, the movie is still a version of The Great Gatsby. I love Carey Mulligan and she fits the part of Daisy perfectly, but Daisy is kind of a tough sell to a modern audience; her porcelain weightlessness makes one wonder why this is the girl who causes such an obsession, especially when Elizabeth Debicki as Jordan Baker is standing right next to her all the time. Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) is perhaps the template for the frustrating character whose job is to observe the really interesting one from the audience's perspective. And Luhrmann tends to use a lot of F. Scott Fitzgerald's words, which is understandable, but they're always describing something we can see or really should be able to pick up from the characters' expressions or actions, or at least words. When narration is going on, it feels like nothing is happening, and that happens all too often.

Still, it's a beautiful movie that at least gives me the idea that I maybe shouldn't have judged this story so harshly at sixteen, and that's something.

Jason and the Argonauts

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 16 May 2013 in the Brattle Theatre (Ray Harryhausen, 35mm)

I was never a huge Harryhausen fan growing up. We didn't have the television channels, repertory cinemas, or well-stocked video stores that lead a kid to develop a love of this material in my corner of North Yarmouth, Maine, and by the time we did,I was maybe smart enough to be impressed at what he did with the materials available to him, but not necessarily to really imprint on it. It's led me to develop a fairly healthy suspicion of nostalgia which I honestly think serves me pretty well.

But, man, is what he does in Jason and the Argonauts kind of amazing or what? In a lot of ways, it's not so much the meticulous creation of stop-motion animation that does it, but the way he incorporates it: There is great compositing, matching of movement and lighting, and fine attention to detail for when it's necessary for something to be built in two scales. And unlike a lot of effects work, his effects sequences are always well-directed - he knew when sudden and subtle movements were appropriate. It makes for surprisingly seamless work, even to the modern eye.

As to the movie itself.. Well, that's the part where I have a little more trouble. It is, like many of the movies Harryhausen worked on, aimed at a fairly young audience, and it kind of inherits the nonsensical nature of both the original mythology and the relatively unsophisticated nature of that sort of genre film. It also bumps up against a problem mythology-based films have a hard time avoiding - the gods are, by and large, capricious jerks, so trying to fit their actions into a sort of reasonable motivation is almost impossible, while also being so powerful that it's no wonder the classical theater which used them gave us the term deus ex machina.

Still, plenty of fun, with a cast that includes future Bond girl Honor Blackman and future Doctor Who Patrick Troughton.

Clash of the Titans (1981)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 May 2013 in the Brattle Theatre (Ray Harryhausen, 35mm)

Before this movie started, I half-jokingly tweeted that it came out in 1981, when I was seven years old and very much enamored of Greek mythology, so why the heck had I not seen it before now? Huh, Mom & Dad?

A few minutes in, I figured the answer was nudity, although apparently this was rated PG from the start, even though in today's environment it would probably get an R for skin (or be re-edited, or more likely still never show a nipple at all) and a PG-13 for violence. It plays as somewhat more adult than Jason and the Argonauts, and I think that's a bit of a downfall for it - the greater intensity of the action and open references to sexuality clash against some of the more broadly played bits (including the goofy robot owl), and the dumb mythological plotting that hurts Jason becomes even more noticeable here.

Still, there's no denying Ray Harryhausen does some pretty amazing things. Calibos, for instance, is an amazing creation, fully good enough in some of the full-bodied scenes to convince me I was seeing a man wearing prosthetics rather than an animated model. Pegasus works; I'd be shocked if the CGI models in the recent mythological movies worked better. And action scenes where animation and live-action have to interact are often pretty seamless.

I can't help but see the flaws now, but I would have eaten this up as a kid. Ah, well.

TranceIFFBoston: The Spectacular NowIFFBoston: Tokyo Waka & WastelandIFFBoston: Soft in the Head & A HijackingIFFBoston: Secundaria, Night Labor, Computer Chess, Oxyana, V/H/S/2IFFBoston: The Defector, Remote Area Medical, The Act of Killing, Berberian Sound Studio

IFFBoston: Some Girl(s) & Willow CreekIFFBoston: In a World...Iron Man ThreeTwenty Feet from Stardom

Our HospitalityNo Place on Earth
Go Goa GoneAftershockPeeplesNo One LivesJays 12, Sox 4

The Great GatsbyJason and the Argonauts & Clash of the TitansBlack RockStar Trek Into DarknessKiss of the Damned

Monday, May 20, 2013

Kiss of the Damned

Semi-serious question here - when the Coolidge gets their DCP installed, just how much of an upgrade will we notice over when they play a Blu-ray like they did for this midnight show of Kiss of the Damned? I'm presuming that they're installing 2K projectors - maybe they'll go 4K, but outside of the big chains, that seems relatively rare - which have roughly the same resolution as the 1080p24 movies encoded on disc, so I'm guessing it's some combination of higher-quality components, greater color depth, and much less compression.

I hope so, because this was definitely Blu-ray; there was a hiccup a few minutes into the first attempt to run the movie, bouncing us to the Oppo player's home screen. It wound up not being disruptive - the movie played without a hitch afterward - but seeing that does sort of change the calculus for whether walking forty minutes and then paying $10 to sit in a sparsely populated theater is a great idea (and actually paying $10, because MoviePass screwed up their listings again). Don't get me wrong, I like putting my peripheral vision to use, but that's not really what I like to see when I'm a sweaty mess from trying to get to a screening on time.

At least I was able to catch the last 66 home. Let me telll you, that bus at 2am is bizarre, just plowing through its route and barely seeming to cast a sideways glance at the stops where it is usually slowing to a crawl.

Kiss of the Damned

* * * (out of four)
Seen 18 May 2013 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (After Midnite Fresh Blood, Blu-ray)

Sexy vampires are a problematic sort of monster; it's very easy for someone telling a story of these creatures to forget that they are monsters at all, getting lost in the beauty and grandeur of these eternally young men and women from another, perhaps more genteel time. Or they go the route of the movies that clearly inspired Xan Cassavetes's Kiss of the Damned, leaning far more heavily on the "sexy" than the "vampire". What makes this one perhaps more worth a watch than its skin-flick ancestors is that Cassavetes has her eye on what sort of monsters walk among the living as well as the dead.

Djuna (Josephine de La Baume) may be a vampire, but she strives not to be a monster. Right now, she's living in the Connecticut estate of Xenia (Anna Mouglalis) - a fellow vampire - where the maid (Ching Valdes-Aran) has a rare blood condition that makes her unappetizing, and there is enough wildlife to slake her thirst. Still, one can't stay cooped up all the time, and while making a trip to the video store, she meets Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia), a screenwriter renting a nearby house to work. They connect, she pulls away, he insists. Soon, Djuna's happier than she's been in decades - at least until her sister Mimi (Roxane Mesquida) shows up, needing a place to stay for a week before heading to vampire rehab in Arizona.

This may be a movie that takes the perspective of the long-lived undead who look at human beings as potentially interesting members of the lower classes, but it's still able to resonate with a living audience because every family or social circle has a Mimi. She's the vampire's vampire, disappearing for long periods and then showing up because she's tapped out, making noises about changing but blazing a path of destruction through the lives of the people who can't or won't turn her away - sometimes because she can't help herself, sometimes with malice aforethought. Cassevetes draws a fairly direct line between Mimi's behavior and alcoholism and other addictions at certain points, though it's less about the simple fact of her desiring something illicit than the patterns of behavior.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness (w/optional spoilery stuff)

This is the second time in as many weeks I've decided to go see a movie out in the suburbs, spent too long writing something for EFC and this blog, and was unable to catch the train fast enough to get me to Malden Station by the time the bus that would take me the final few miles arrived. Last week, it was not getting to Revere in time to see No One Lives, but at least I could fit Peeples in in between. This time, I found myself kind of gambling that the bus would be as late as usual, and of course it wasn't. The bummer is that I bought my ticket online rather than get to Jordan's Furniture in Reading and find them sold out, so I basically ate $14 once I saw that the bus had passed my stop. Got off the train, walked across a subway platform, and headed back to Boston.

I opted to see it on Boston Common's Imax-branded screen, which should amuse my brother Matt, as the same sort of thing happened four years ago. It wasn't horribly expensive, at least - I had $10 on my Stubs card, so even seeing an Imax-branded show, it was just another $6.75 out of pocket. Twenty bucks and more time on the train than I would have liked; could be worse.

Speaking of four years ago, when I saw Star Trek then, I mentioned that it had a lot of flaws that I might have had more of an issue with if the movie hadn't hit my personal sweet spots so well. This time around, well... I'll talk about the end and stuff after the EFC review link.

Star Trek Into Darkness

* * * (out of four)
Seen 18 May 2013 in AMC Boston Common #2 (first-run, Imax-branded digital 3D)

The opening of Star Trek Into Darkness is everything I want from this new incarnation of the franchise: An adventure on a faraway planet that could happily be dropped into the original series except for the big, movie-scale stunts and effects. And while the filmmakers eventually pile on too much of what the series doesn't need, it remains fairly exciting for a good while.

The way that opening plays out leaves Captain James Kirk (Chris Pine) in hot water with Starfleet Command, but an attack on a Starfleet facility in London has Kirk, Spock (Zachary Quinto), McCoy (Karl Urban), Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and the rest of the crew headed into Klingon space to track down John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), the man responsible for the attack. Well, most of the crew - Scotty (Simon Pegg) was relieved after refusing to sign off on the new-model torpedoes that came on board with the new science officer (Alice Eve), and he's not the only one worried about just how far the mission Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) has sent them on appears to be from the Federation's principles.

An act of terrorism spurring a government into dangerous military action that may run counter to its laws and values, huh? Well, Star Trek did always pride itself on its stories holding a sci-fi mirror up to the real world back in the day, and it's nice to see Into Darkness giving some attention to that part of the legacy after its predecessor was so much about rebuilding the universe respectfully (important and fun in its way, but undeniably inward-looking). Into Darkness has a fair amount of that continuity maintenance stuff, but it's at least got a foundation of a story that could be interesting beyond what it says about the series itself.

Full review on eFilmCritic.


As I left the movie, a question crossed my mind: Does the highly-secretive J.J. Abrams realize that he's made a movie where thousands of people die because someone is worried about spoilers?

It's maybe not as direct a connection as I thought it was when old-Spock popped up and told new-Spock that he had avoided sharing details of the future because he didn't want to change the latter's destiny, only to soon see the ship Khan had stolen, the U.S.S. Vengeance (yeah, that's a little on-the-nose) plow through San Francisco, toppling buildings, crushing Alcatraz (a bit bitter about a certain show's failure, J.J.?), etc. I didn't like the latter part anyway - beyond seeming as crass and poorly-placed as the destruction of London in G.I. Joe 2, the big action scene continued with the city looking like this massive disaster wasn't taking place, with none of the CGI people and extras appearing to break stride despite the fact that a starship just fell out of the sky and wiped out a huge chunk of the city- but it's the other half that really bugged me.

It bugged me in part because I hate "destiny". Aside from how invoking it is a cheap way for writers to give something more import than it rightly deserves, it's un-American; we're supposed to earn our positions through the strength of our labor and the sweat on our brows, right? And if it's un-American, it's most certainly un-Vulcan; can't you practically hear Spock dismissing it as a romantic, illogical notion that prevents people from seeking real solutions because they are too focused on a silly superstition?

But in this more specific case, I wonder just what Spock has kept mum about. Is the Doomsday Machine going to consume entire Federation worlds because old-Spock is worried about "destiny", just to name one threat the Enterprise faced during the five-year mission? Is he not going to give Earth warning about V'ger, or let them know that finding some humpback whales might be a good idea? It appears Kronos's moon has already exploded in this timeline (perhaps as a result of the Klingons trying to reverse-engineer Nero's 24th-century Romulan mining ship), but there's still the Borg, the Cardassian Wars, and so much more he could prevent.

And by the movie's logic, he absolutely should be trying to. That is, after all, the theme of the entire movie: When you see a chance to do good, save lives, and help people, you take it. The movie starts with new-Spock lowering himself into an exploding volcano to save the residents of a planet they were surveying, and then Kirk ignoring the Prime Directive to save his friend. Scotty won't back down from his concerns about the torpedoes and later undertakes a clandestine mission off the books, Carol Marcus hacks her way into the Enterprise crew, and pretty much the entire bridge crew pressures Kirk into doing the right thing rather than blindly following orders. Old-Spock holding back is completely counter to its philosophy, and it's a shame he's not called on it.

Of course, he could have been sharing information with Starfleet and just not telling his younger self and friends about it; that would certainly explain why Starfleet had found the Botany Bay and had Khan defrosted long enough to work on stuff for them well before the time when the Enterprise discovered it in the original timeline's "Space Seed". Then, he could have presented that as a counter-argument in favor of the Prime Directive and the like, that by altering the natural order of events, he had helped precipitate this crisis. The movie doesn't get into this, though, even though it's potentially the most interesting question in the movie, science-fictionally.

And wondering how Khan Noonian Singh is running around sort of ignores the question of just how much he's Khan in name only. Overlook the lack of any sort of resemblance between Ricardo Montalban and Benedict Cumberbatch (although the guy the producers originally wanted, Benicio Del Toro, would have been much closer), this Khan is just kind of boring. He's intense and angry and not much else. Where's the charm of Montalban's Khan that seduced this ship's historian, and the grandiosity? He was brought back for the movies because he was fun to watch, which isn't really the case here. Now, sure, circumstances are different - this is a laser-focused Khan putting the fate of his genetically-engineered peers first, executing a plan that doesn't seem to make sense at all (he'd have to predict a lot to figure on Kirk bringing his people to him, and I don't think anyone's that smart) rather than using what resources he has to improvise, but even if that makes sense, it's still a mistake: The fun of both "Space Seed" and The Wrath of Khan is that both Khan and Kirk are smart, cunning warriors both on a battlefield and in sizing opponents up personally. Those things are what made him the closest thing James T. Kirk has to a nemesis, and they're sorely missing.

Instead - and this may be the film's biggest sin - Abrams and company just rely on name recognition. Khan is an alpha villain because we know Khan is an alpha villain. Similarly, two of the biggest moments in the finale - the admittedly clever role-reversal of Kirk being temporarily killed as he tries to stabilize the warp core (in a Kirkishly physical manner, as opposed to Spock's methodical work in Star Trek II) and Spock screaming Khan's name - rely on the audience knowing the previous material, and I kind of think they shouldn't. 2009's Star Trek took great pains to rebuild the franchise as something that could be approached fresh because the fifty years of accumulated history no longer mattered, and suddenly going back to the "prior experience required" mode is, I think, a real mistake.


Now, I admit, these are things that basically are only going to really jump out at someone who has followed the franchise for thirty years and also has a tendency to pull stories apart to see how they work - so, basically, me. But I do think that people notice these things, and that's why I hope that when the next Star Trek movie is done for the fiftieth anniversary, they take it as a chance to truly get back to basics: Adventure in deep space with great effects and a smile, no continuity necessary.